By Doug Hallett
Coun. Gloria Kovach’s daughter Jennifer Kovach, the first Guelph Police officer to die on duty in almost 50 years, was remembered by her chief Thursday as “a gregarious, dynamic and vibrant young woman with great potential.”
The 26-year-old officer, a four-year member of the Guelph Police Service, was alone in a marked police car after midnight and on her way to assist at a call for service when she crashed into a city bus on Imperial Road, said Police Chief Bryan Larkin.
“Regrettably, we believe she lost control of her cruiser and crossed the centre line and hit a transit bus,” he told a 1 p.m. news conference.
Constable Kovach’s cruiser was heading north on Imperial and the bus was going south when the collision happened just after 12:30 a.m. March 14 near the entrance to the West End Community Centre, he said.
Police investigators are looking at if weather was a factor, “but it is very early in the investigation,” Larkin said. He said it was snowing lightly and the temperature had dropped to -7C when the collision occurred.
Const. Kovach suffered serious injuries, and firefighters had to extract her from the cruiser. She was later pronounced dead at Guelph General Hospital. There is a fire station next to the recreation centre, and personnel from there were among the emergency responders to the crash, Larkin said.
He praised the emergency responders, Guelph General Hospital staff and the driver of the Guelph Transit bus, which had no passengers at the time of the crash. The bus driver, who was taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries before being released, “did provide significant care” to Const. Kovach at the accident scene, the police chief said.
Larkin said the only other Guelph Police officers to die while on duty died in 1964 and 1922. Both were men.
Const. Kovach, a lifelong Guelph resident, was distinctive in the local police force for her “bouncing ponytail,” Larkin said. She was a “daredevil” who enjoyed motorcycles and loved dogs, he said.
“There are no words to express our sorrow. There are no words to express our sadness,” Larkin said about the mood within the Guelph Police Service on Thursday.
What can be expressed, he added, is that Const. Kovach was a “a gregarious, dynamic and vibrant young woman with great potential.”
“Jennifer was fulfilling a childhood dream, which was to be a police officer,” he said. “If you talk to members of her platoon, she didn’t come to work, she came to make a difference to the City of Guelph.”
“I believe her parents taught her the value of public service,” Larkin noted.
Larkin declined to say much about Const. Kovach’s personal life. “She is a daughter, she is a loved one, she is a sister, she is an aunt,” is all he would say.
He told the news conference at the emergency services centre on Clair Road, which was attended by newspaper, radio and TV news crews from as far away as Toronto, that there had already been an “incredible outpouring of support” from the local community and from police forces across the country.
The gathered media included 10 operators of news camera and about an equal number of seated reporters.
Mayor Karen Farbridge, who sat near Larkin along with Guelph Police Services Board chair Judy Sorbara, told the media that she had “watched Jennifer grow up.”
So “it is a very sad day, and my heart goes out very much to her mother and her family,” she said.
“I can say her mother was so immensely proud when she became a police officer,” Farbridge said.
Coun. Kovach is Guelph’s longest-serving city councillor and a former member of the police services board.
Police said earlier that the Kovach family was expected to make a statement about the tragedy within a couple of days.
Farbridge said she got a call about the tragedy at about 1 a.m. Thursday, shortly after it happened. It left her shocked and speechless, she said.
She remembered Const. Kovach growing up as a “very energetic” person with “an engaging smile.”
She was “a huge role model” for women in policing, Farbridge said. “Her age and her position was something young people and teenagers connected with.”
Const. Kovach was one of 39 women serving in Guelph Police Services.
Asked if it’s normal in Guelph for Const. Kovach to have been working alone, Larkin told reporters that the Guelph Police “deployment mode” is generally single officers in a cruiser.
Larkin also mused that the midnight shift that Const. Kovach was working is “often high volume, is often busy,” while the rest of the community “is silent.”
Larkin said no details were yet known of funeral arrangements.
A police news release issued Thursday morning paid tribute to the dead officer.
“This is a sad and tragic day for the police service and the City of Guelph,” the release said. “Const. Kovach exemplified the values of our service and was committed to making a difference. Jennifer was fulfilling her dream as a police officer, and we will forever remember her zest for life, her strong sense of adventure and her gregarious smile that brightened all our lives.”
Members of the Guelph Police Service traffic unit are leading the investigation into the collision with help from other units, including the Forensic Identification Unit and the coroner’s office, the release said.
Larkin said collision investigators worked through the night on the case.
Anyone who witnessed the crash or has information related to it is asked to contact Const. Kaut at 519-824-1212, ext. 7480.
By Doug Hallett